I took my daughter Sydney and her friend Carleigh to see 5 Seconds of Summer this weekend. It was a great show, as usual. I say usual because we’ve been to many of them; One Direction, Taylor Swift, and Justin Timberlake just to name a few. I can think of few things more meaningful than surprising her with tickets to a show and watching her go full giddy the same way I do when I get to see Hall & Oates, Counting Crows and Ingrid Michaelson. This is jut one of many joys I get in being a father. In fact, as I sit here writing this, Sydney is texting me asking if we can see 5 Seconds of Summer again this weekend, 220 miles away.
I knew I was going to be a dad two times in my life. The first was in December of 1996 before my son Jordan was born. He would die 17 months later. The second was in September of 2000 before Sydney was born. She is 15 years old and if anything ever happened to her, I literally do not know what I would do.
Do you know what else I do not know? How someone with the opportunity of being a dad can waste it, can simply abandon or be absent to their children. Do they know what they are missing? Do they know the impacts the abandonment has on the child, their child? Involved and active parents know the answers to these questions. Strictly from a relationship coaching lens, I have had my share of fathers go through introspection, regret, and shame after neglecting their children.
I will fully admit that being a father and a relationship coach can be a challenge when I am confronted with absenteeism like this. There are so many things I want to say. I imagine myself as a guest on Dr. Phil’s with a group of absentee fathers for the sole purpose of telling them just what they need to hear, no filters. My words would go something like this:
1. You may be a father by blood but you are not a dad. When a child calls you dad or daddy, it comes from a very special place in their heart. There is joy and excitement from those words. You will feel no such things when being addressed by your child; especially the longer you are absent or have abandoned them and the older they get.
2. Your justification is not enough. Too many late nights at work? Excuse. Financial problems? Excuse. The fact is, you make time for what matters and children don’t need what money can buy. They need your emotional support. They need your approval. They need to know that someone is going to help them make sense of this crazy world.
3. You are not just abondoning your child, you are abandoning your childs mother. I have seen absentee fathers feel bad for not being there for their kids but feel no remorse or heartache for the position it puts the mother in. The fact is, when you are absent the childs mother is doing their job and yours. She is making ends meet for two people. She is sacrificing her social life to maximize the amount of time her child can spend with a trusted, loving adult.
4. Children know. They always know. I’ve consoled, counseled and coached many mothers who were pained by what their children go through once their father has decided to play a less active role in their lives. There is a feeling of neglect, anger and outright resentment in the child. How long will it last though? Will the children blame the mother for any of this? These are reasonable questions that are raised and I am ecstatic to say that I quell them rather quickly. That is because there is tons of research that proves just how quickly children grasp what has really happened (a selfish decision) and who (read: you) is responsible for it.
5. Children forgive, even when they shouldn’t. This means you have a chance at redemption, especially in your childs earlier years. Despite the missed birthdays and sporadic visits, you can still make their world by being an active and loving person in it but you better be all in. Speaking of…
6. Mommy’s got this. While it breaks my heart to see a child without an active father in his life, the truth is, mommy will do just fine without you. A part of you may wish you were there more to play that role, to be that figure in your childs life but we have a generation of proof telling us that things will end up a-ok. Besides, armchair quarterbacking from the bleachers is not helpful so either participate fully or show yourself out permanently.